Inspiration often comes from unlikely places. That’s not to say I was surprised to be inspired by the Bhagavad Gita. It’s one of the most enduring spiritual texts in human history, its wisdom reverberating into hearts, minds, and spirits some 5,000 years after it was written.
What was a surprise was how the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna stoked the fire of creative expression within me. Before diving into Jack Hawley’s translation (conveniently “borrowed” from my partner’s bookshelf and yet-to-be returned) my creative flow had stagnated.
I wasn’t sure why, but my ideas were muddied and sluggish and I was struggling to put stuff out into the world. There was a breakdown between the fruition of an idea and my desire to mold the idea into a fully-formed package. That was until I digested Krishna’s divine wisdom regarding action.
Karma Yoga and the creative process
The Bhagavad Gita is told in verses through dialogue between Krisha, a manifestation of the God, and Arjuna, a noble warrior on the brink of war. Each section focuses on different aspects of divinity and includes practical guidance on living a spiritual life. My primary motivation for reading was to enrich and deepen my spiritual practice.
Yet I was stunned by how well its wisdom translates to practical guidance on modern living. It was the verse on Karma Yoga, which translates to “union with God through action,” that catalyzed my creative process. In essence there’s no problem with action. It’s attachment to results that cause difficulty.
Krishna explains action through the divine lens. “Work hard in the world, Arjuna, but for work’s sake only.” The key with Karma Yoga is to let go of any expectations on the outcome — words of wisdom for writers or artists or creatives of any field. It was Krishna’s description of the effect of work created with expectations that hit home:
“You have every right to work but you should not crave the fruits of it. Although no one may deny you the outcomes of your efforts, you can, through determination, refuse to be attached to or affected by the results, whether favorable or unfavorable.”
As I read this passage my head nodded in resonance. A message from five millennia ago that lands so deeply and truly contains a certain reverence. It dawned on me: my writing process had become outcome-orientated. I was filtering each pure idea through distortions of “will people read it” or “is this a bit much” or “is this too little.” I wasn’t letting the idea grow organically because I was limiting it mid-growth.
Time-traveling to an imagined future
Krishna’s guidance then began to hit even closer to home when he further explains this process. Despite being separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, I started to wonder if Krishna was talking to me directly:
“Desire for the fruits of one’s actions brings worry about possible failure. When you are preoccupied with end results you pull yourself from the present into an imagined, usually fearful future. Then your anxiety robs your energy and, making matters worse, you lapse into inaction and laziness.”
My creative process had stagnated because the moment I had an idea part of my mind was time-traveling into an imagined future — the moment I hit publish, the tumbleweed, or even ridicule — before the idea had formulated. I was suffocating the ideation process, I wasn’t letting it breathe.
Creativity is a sacred gift to be refined, not to be censored.
The cycle of future-projection, then a reduction in energy, then inaction, was something I’d experienced. I was attached to the outcome rather than being present to ideas as they came. This is counter-intuitive as “work performed with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done in a state of calmness.”
I am familiar with this brief detour from the present and how the anxiety of outcome has a detrimental effect on my work. The more unconventional or radical the ideas I have, the more this anxiety affects me. But this isn’t what I signed up for. Creativity is a sacred gift to be refined, not to be censored.
Union with the sacred process
Karma Yoga is a union with divinity. Writing is a spiritual practice in its own right, a way to simultaneously connect with myself and with something greater. That’s personal and beautiful and who am I to interrupt this process? Krishna’s words inspired me to remain true to my ideas, to be present to them, to nourish them, then to put them out into the world without expectation.
Whatever you create has worth and value because it’s yours
I know I’m not alone in this process. Creativity as a human function is suppressed and anxiety around the reception towards our ideas is suffocating. The challenge is to allow ourselves to breathe freely so our ideas meet the world, reach hearts, and send ripples into the imaginations of others — and to be fine if none of this happens.
The Bhagavad Gita reminded me that creativity is boundless, not confined to good or bad or right or wrong or success or failure. Krishna’s wisdom inspired me to be fully present to ideas, to my process. Now I am vigilant of the times when my process is interrupted by future-projection. I’m deliberately sharing experimental ideas I feel won’t be popular to challenge my ego.
The value and worth of creativity is in the process, not the outcome. Whatever you create has worth and value because it’s yours. It doesn’t have to be shared to be valuable or liked to be validated. Cherish it as the birth of something from within, something you’ve added to the world, an act of creation itself.
“Only in the present can you hammer out real achievement,” Krishna says. I’m inclined to agree.